Posted by: Admin | July 22, 2011

Dear LC – My baby has colics! He is crying a lot. I have tried to stop eating this and that but nothing works. Could you give me a list of the foods I should avoid eating?

Will you be sorry to hear we do not have a list of foods you cannot eat when you breastfeed? The reason we don’t have a list is that you can actually eat anything you like! Naturally, if you spend a week gorging on apples or corn, “you” might have some cramping…but would your baby? Probably not – but don’t try!

First, it is important to note that the foods a breastfeeding mother eats will not pass directly into her breastmilk. Once eaten, the food is chewed and starts to be transformed in the mother’s mouth by her saliva. When it reaches her stomach, it is again transformed into a substance that can easily be absorbed by the small intestines. Then, the “unused stuff” goes into the large intestine to be discarded and all the “good” stuff – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins – gets absorbed into the small intestine’s lining. From there, all these goodies pass into the blood stream, which sends them wherever they need to go to fuel up your body.

One place they are sent is to the inside of the breastfeeding mother’s breasts, which contain small milk-making factories called lactocytes. These lactocyte cells receive what they need to make breastmilk from the mother’s blood. Your baby does not receive fish, goose, blueberries, broccoli, onions, garlic, and so forth in your breastmilk. He receives proteins that come from the fish, meat, milk products and beans you eat. He receives vitamins from vegetables and fruits, and carbohydrates from cereal and bread products. The fat he receives will also be transformed from the fats you eat. Naturally, the better quality of food you eat, the better it is for everyone, but whatever you eat, your baby will still get better nutrition from breastmilk than from a baby commercial formula!

Knowing this, we can better understand why babies don’t usually react to the foods breastfeeding mothers eat. Furthermore, research tells us our babies are already used to the foods we eat as they were exposed to the tastes and smells from the amniotic liquid during pregnancy. The only foods experts warn mothers about are chocolate, tea and coffee! They contain caffeine or caffeine-like substances that pass through breastmilk. Once again, these substances do not reach the baby at full strength, but a younger baby is more likely to react than an older one because his system is not as mature. If you have a new baby, the recommendations are to limit yourself to three cups of coffee a day. If your child is older, just observe him: if he has trouble sleeping, or is irritable and cranky, you might want to decrease the amount of coffee you have been taking. If he sleeps well and is feeling good, do not worry.  All is fine!

As for caffeine causing your baby’s colic: it is a possibility. After all, irritability in a baby is defined as fussiness and crying!  So if you do drink a lot of caffeine-containing drinks and have a colicky baby, you could try to avoid the guilty stuff! It is important to avoid them for a good three weeks to be able to really tell if it makes a difference. If you do not see any change, you can resume your old ways, but a decrease in caffeine-containing drinks is always a good thing, even for you! If you want more information on drinking coffee during breastfeeding, look for my blog on this subject on March 31, 2011.

Other colic-causing product are cow-based dairy products. Some babies react to the protein in cow-derived products like, milk, cheese, yogurt and sometimes even beef. This reaction can be a sign of an intolerance or (more rarely) an allergy. Such reactions are often seen in ethnic groups that historically have never relied on cow products for their survival, such as Asians, Africans and Native Americans. Symptoms of intolerance can be varied and can go from colic to eczema and even to bad diarrhea. A frank allergy to cow’s milk will produce much more dramatic symptoms (hives, swelling of the mouth and tongue, etc.- if this should happen call your local clinic immediately!) and can be life-threatening. It is important to note that the guilty component is the protein in cow’s milk, not the lactose. A general rule in all mammals (that is, animals that feed their offspring with milk from their mammary glands) is that their babies can digest lactose, as all mammals’ milks contain lactose! So stopping your  breastfeeding and giving your baby a specialized commercial baby formula will not solve the problem! Actually, a recent study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology showed that specialized commercial baby formula did not protect babies against allergies and that breastmilk is the best food for babies.

The main message here is that most cases of colic are not food-related! They are mostly linked to the baby’s neurological and physical immaturity. Here is a simplified way of explaining the phenomenon: everyone can relate to having gas, right? Here you have a baby who has gas in his tummy. He is very young and does not have the knowledge nor the capacity to expel the gas to make himself feel better… instead, he just lays there in pain. That is a good description of colic!!!! You might say: “But why does he have gas in the first place?”, and you might conclude once again:” It has to be the foods I ate!” And I will have to say: “Not really!” But why do we always think that?

We can relate well to foods that upset our stomachs and bowels. We live with this every day. This happens to us mostly because we eat high fat content food (ex. fried foods) or foods that may have been on the verge of being unfit for human consumption (watch for those expiry dates and be careful to put stuff that belongs in the fridge back in there when you are not using it). There are also many different types of viruses going around. As humans, our digestive system is probably the system that gives us the most pain. When we see a baby crying constantly, our first responses is that we will believe his stomach is the source of the pain and we will always think the cause is food! It is just human nature. We need to remember that being overtired, stressed and over-stimulated can also cause distressing digestive pains and cramping. Just think about how your stomach feels when you are nervous! Also, very young babies can have many different kinds of pain following labour and delivery. Some have bad headaches from having their head misshapen. Other will have painful bruises on their bodies (not always visible If your labor was long or if your baby was in the birth canal for a long time, as is often the case with larger babies).

In conclusion, colic is very rarely caused by foods breastfeeding mothers eat! 🙂

Stay tuned for next weeks Dear LC: What can I do to help my colicky baby?

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